HOMER - Banks County citizens again will get an opportunity to vote on Sunday alcohol sales, though when that will happen remains undetermined.
During its meeting Tuesday night, the Banks County Commission voted 5-0 to place the issue of Sunday alcohol sales by the drink on an upcoming ballot. Banks County Attorney Randall Frost will have to research the first time the issue can be placed before the public, likely sometime in 2014.
The decision to place the issue on the ballot followed an energetic plea by Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau Chairman Paul Patel, a hotelier in the Banks Crossing area.
Patel, who said as CVB chairman he has a fiduciary responsibility to work for economic development and business in the county, noted he is competitive and doesn't like to see the county lose business to those who offer services not available in Banks County.
"When I say competitive, I don't want my neighbors' properties to be better than me," Patel said. "As a county, we need to try to follow that system where we dont want to fall behind our neighboring counties. Commerce has already approved it."
Patel said most businesses in Banks County lose when visitors staying in the county drive to surrounding areas to make purchases.
"My main thing is I don't want them leaving this county and spending money in another county, running short on gas, filling up with gas in another county, eating in another county and then coming here just to sleep," Patel said. "I'm benefiting but nobody else in this county is, so I would just like to propose that we put Sunday sales on the referendum as soon as possible when the county attorney thinks it's suitable."
Patel said he realizes selling the Sunday sales issue to some people in the county will be difficult, but he and other chamber of commerce and CVB officials are prepared to launch an education campaign.
"There's a lot of things that we have to consider - religion is one of them," Patel said. "By blood, I'm British, but my parents are Indian. We practice Hinduism - people don't drink. I personally don't drink. I've never had a bottle of beer in my life, but I don't condemn you for drinking. It's something people enjoy."
The last Sunday sales referendum in Banks County in 2012 failed, 52.43 percent (3,206 votes) to 47.57 percent (2,909 votes).
Asked by Commissioner Charles Turk how many in the audience represented restaurants, about eight or nine people riased their hands. Six or seven of those indicated they sell alcohol at their restaurants.
"What's going to be different this time than the last time?" Turk asked. "Are we going to get some support from the business community? Because we didn't last time."
Commissioner Danny Maxwell stressed the importance of an awareness and education campaign.
"What about the education of the people of Banks County before this goes on a ballot?" Maxwell asked. "We need to make sure that the people know everything - the pros and cons about what's going on and why it's on the ballot, and why it should be approved or disapproved."
Turk said the commission can't market the ballot issue.
"We can't do anything," Turk said. "We have to stay neutral."
Patel said a marketing and education campaign is planned.
Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper thanked Patel for his comments.
"I think that we are putting our restaurants that are at I-85 now on an un-level, uneven playing field," Hooper said. "Our adjoining county and our adjoining cities have this option available for them on Sunday sales. We're asking our restaurants to compete in a market that's not really level. In a free market system, if you're beaten by better service I have no problem with that, but if you limit what I can do then I've got a problem with that."
Following a lengthy presentation by Patel and discussion by commissioners, Hooper was ready for the commission to act - but his motion drew confusion.
"I'll put it in the form of a motion that we approve Sunday alcohol sales to establish them at restaurants with the 60/40 ratio that's in our policy at this time," Hooper said. "I put it in the form of a motion, looking for a second."
"Whoa!" Commissioner Sammy Reece interrupted. "Run that by me one more time. You going to put it on the ballot?"
"I make a motion that we put it on the ballot," Hooper said. "Did I not say that?"
"No," Reece said, as murmurs filled the packed audience.
Turk clarified Hooper's motion was for the issue of Sunday alcohol sales by the drink to be placed on the ballot, then Reece seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Following the meeting, Banks County Economic Developer Brad Day commented on the importance of Sunday alcohol sales by the drink.
"We're really excited that Paul Patel from the chamber/CVB made a great argument," Day said. "Our commissioners made a courageous decision to let the people decide it. Now that Commerce, Jefferson and other communities around have it, they could steal our restaurants and get restaurants that are supposed to be in Banks County.
"We appreciate the courageous decision of the county commissioners once again, under these new circumstances, to allow the citizens of Banks County to not let Commerce and Jefferson steal our restaurants," Day said.